When Austin Berry was officially declared the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year, the Cincinnati, Ohio native became the third player in Fire history to win the award. Previously won by Carlos Bocanegra in 2000 and Damani Ralph in 2003, the Fire now hold the most Rookie of the Year honors in MLS history.
Here's a look at the Fire’s three Rookie of the Year winners.
Carlos Bocanegra - 2000
The Fire selected Carlos Bocanegra with the fourth pick in the 2000 MLS SuperDraft after a stellar collegiate career at UCLA. In his rookie season, Bocanegra started all 27 regular season matches in which he appeared, scoring one goal and adding one assist as the Fire reached MLS Cup, where they fell 1-0 to the Kansas City Wizards. A week later, the Fire defeated the Miami Fusion 2-1, winning the club's second Open Cup trophy in just two seasons, though Bocanegra was unable to play after seeing red in the semifinal.
Following his rookie season, Bocanegra was named the 2002 and 2003 MLS Defender of the Year while also making the MLS Best XI both years. He was twice named the club’s Defender of the Year in 2000 and 2003.
After four seasons in which he appeared in 87 regular season matches, Bocanegra made the move overseas and signed with English Premier League Side Fulham FC prior to the 2004 season.
Bocanegra spent four years with the Cottagers, appearing in over 100 matches and scoring eight goals. He then went on to play in France's Ligue 1 with Rennes and Saint-Étienne before moving to storied Scottish side Rangers FC.
Bocanegra earned his first cap for the U.S. Men's National Team on Dec. 9, 2001 and has since made 109 appearances for the Yanks. A two-time FIFA World Cup veteran, Alta Loma, Calif. native captained the 2010 U.S. squad that won their group for the first time since 1930. Though he picked up a hamstring injury in the recent friendly in Russia, Bocanegra is expected to return in time to lead the U.S. into the final round of 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying on Feb. 6.
Now plying his trade with Spanish Segunda División side Racing Santander, Bocanegra recently started a multi-sport training center in southern California called CB3, which this year held its first MLS pre-combine training program that focused on soccer-specific speed and agility training. All four players that trained at CB3 prior to the MLS Combine were selected in the SuperDraft, including this year’s Rookie of the Year honoree, Austin Berry.
Damani Ralph - 2003
In 2003 the Fire selected MAC Hermann trophy finalist Damani Ralph out of the University of Connecticut with the 18th pick (second round) of the MLS SuperDraft.
In his first season with the Men in Red, the Jamaican international set the MLS Rookie record for goals in a season with 11 and tallied six assists while also picking up MLS Goal of the Year honors. The Fire would go on to win the 2003 Supporters' Shield and reach the MLS Cup Final, where the Men in Red fell 4-2 to the San Jose Earthquakes.
His sophomore season proved that it wasn’t beginner’s luck, as he posted similarly impressive stats, again scoring 11 goals and adding three assists in 26 matches.
After two seasons with the Fire, Ralph transferred to Russian Premier League Side FC Rubin Kazan, where he went on to appear in 25 games, scoring two goals in three seasons.
Ralph made his international debut for Jamaica in 2002, earning 18 caps and scoring one goal for the Reggae Boyz.
Unfortunately his career was prematurely ended by a series of knee injuries. Ralph returned to school where he finished his degree in Economics from the University of Connecticut. The 2003 MLS Rookie of the Year is now working as a sports agent, where he is able to stay connected to the game while utilizing his experiences as a player to bridge the gap between young Jamaican players who are looking to make the jump to MLS.
Austin Berry - 2012
Selected in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, the former Fire PDL player joined the Men in Red after a standout collegiate career. After overcoming a broken leg in 2009, Berry led the University of Louisville to the 2010 NCAA Men’s College Cup championship match and was named 2010 BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year.
Berry made his first game-day lineup March 24 and made his professional debut May 4 when he started against Chivas USA. Minutes after giving up a penalty kick, Berry maintained his composure and got on the end of a ball from Sebastian Grazzini, becoming just the third rookie in Fire history and the first since 1998 to score in a debut MLS appearance.
Since his debut, Berry played every minute of his 28 consecutive MLS Regular Season appearances, breaking the record of consecutive starts by a Fire rookie, previously held by Bocanegra. Berry anchored the Fire defense that held opponents to just 41 goals as the Men in Red went 17-11-6, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
A hard-nosed, blue collared player, Berry is sure to catch Jurgen Klinsmann’s eye and figure into the U.S. Men’s National Team picture in the coming years.